Thursday, October 6, 2011

They Paved Paradise

According to Baist’s Maps of Naylor Court in 1924, there were two alley stables living on the lot at 1322 9th Street NW. It is now vacant, and languishing as a “blighted D.C. property”. The stables and associated 9th Street NW Victorian homes were razed or collapsed from neglect long ago. How do holes appear in city squares like #0367? Often, it’s a matter of greed.  Speculators “sit on a property” – like a stock – in the anticipation that it will eventually make them very rich. When economies tank and ready money suddenly dries up, property values plummet. The forces to continue to hold onto the languishing properties increase. The speculators then double down with renewed tenacity, figuring that they had lost a fortune (a theoretical loss since the full price valuation had never been achieved in the first place) and need to make up for their losses. That's where it gets interesting.

The pressures to do something more than putting up a “for sale sign” mount, so rather than sell or creatively construct, the owners opt to pave, privatize and promote. Now they have cash flow, a diminished tax burden (commercial versus blighted property tax) and can continue to hold what they think will be a winning hand. 
In her 1970 album (Ladies of the Canyon) Joni Mitchell ( railed against the progressive loss of civility in cities through ruthless “urban planning.” Indeed, rather than saying “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone” she could as easily said: - “you don’t know what you could have done till you can’t.”

“Soon after Harriet Tregoning became D.C. planning director in 2007, the developers of a proposed building for a prime downtown spot at Connecticut Avenue and K Street NW suggested opening a parking lot on their site until construction could begin. She cringed. “I grew up in St. Louis, and I know what a parking lot means, a surface parking lot,” Tregoning said. “If there’s an indicator species for distress, it’s a surface parking lot.” Jonathan O’Connell in the Washington Business Journal discussed the principles of “temporary urbanism” with Ms. Tregoning “as a means to bring dead construction zones and storefronts alive with active, temporary uses O'Connell points out that developers are often lukewarm to the idea of temporary uses as they are concerned that when the time for development does arrive the public will object to displacement of the temporary amenity. When the stopgap for every stalled development is a parking lot it stifles livability. The district has made strides in this regard under Tregoning's tenure but other cities show that much more is possible. But with the recession stalling plans for new construction around the city, she also knew the request was likely to be the first of many. So Tregoning began pushing a new concept — “temporary urbanism” — to bring dead construction zones and storefronts alive with active, temporary uses.”

(References: - "WBJ discusses Temporary Urbanism with Harriet Tregoning" and from The Triangle, not just parking lots anymore...
You often hear long time Shaw residents say: - “Surely a paved-over empty lot is better than nothing.” or “You should have seen this place 20 years ago.” Well, think again! Profitable paved parking projects have an evil way of promoting their own permanence. These lots leave nasty dead zones in the city. Parking lots are nationally recognized by urban planners as properties that create opportunities for crime to flourish. They neither improve nor inspire a residential neighborhood. They only contribute to the feelings of neglect, danger and decay. "Obviously, nobody cares around here, so anything goes."

(Naylor Ct. parking lot circa 1989 - photo courtesy of Roger Theil )
By comparing these two maps (Baist’s 1924 and 1989) you will see “holes” in the block density appearing like the lost teeth of urban decay. The paved-over vacant lots represent lost opportunities to increase housing density in downtown D.C. by constructing something creative and exciting for people. Washington is rapidly growing up in terms of thinking about urban planning. It’s actually quietly becoming quite a hip and vibrant town for young people. The time to think of alleys as useful for only trash and services (like parking lots) is finished in the enlightened circles of national discussion about alleys.

A surplus of parking really can be too much of a good thing for any city. Each lot creates a new ‘dead zone’ in the middle of what ought to be a bustling commercial district or residential neighborhood. These dead zones block new growth and mean there is less room for the offices and homes that would supply a steady stream of office workers and residents who might patronize local businesses - and less room to cluster other businesses that would in turn attract more foot traffic.

Harriet Tregoning is right to push “temporary urbanism” as a way to temporarily use seemingly useless spaces. If you can't swim somewhere positive, at least tread water for a little while. Don't drown opportunities under a sea of asphalt so that they have a difficult time ever recovering. 

The neighborhood will aggressively block creating a parking lot on this vacant land at 1322 9th Street NW. It’s one thing to create something from nothing but why on earth should the community accept creating nothing from something! It shouldn’t and won't.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The MOOD Out on the Street

Video Journalism Documents the “MOOD” After Closing

Warning … this video may cause dizziness if watched too closely. It is meant as documentation of the troublesome mayhem that occurs in the neighborhood as a direct result of the MOOD Lounge business. Turn up your speakers to get a fuller experience of the nocturnal neighborhood noises!

“The MOOD Lounge, after closing for the night late in the evening on Saturday, September 10th / early in the morning about 3:20 am on Sunday, September 11th. To show the noise the neighborhood puts up with. Filmed with a low-tech iPhone 3Gs.”

This property is belongs to the collection of buildings – stables, residences and artisan shops in the alley that were awarded the status of National Register Historic Property recognition in 1990. The MOOD Lounge behavior not only disrespectfully violates the restrictive covenants of this coveted national recognition, but they also continuously and lawlessly violate their own voluntary agreement with the community.

The owner of the property (1318 9th Street LLC) has filed for bankruptcy. The MOOD Lounge business is under investigation by the AG’s office.

A petition to close the business is circulating through the community. The neighborhood, city council members, the ANC and many others are really tired of the bad mood being created by MOOD Lounge! 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

MOOD turning the tables

3:00 a.m. vandalized tables around the corner from the 
MOOD Lounge (Azi's) after an evening of drinking and
 partying spills into the neighborhood. Police called 4 X.

(cell phone photo from a neighbor who could not sleep because of the noise!)

The MOOD might be changing at last


"By virtue of a certain Purchase Money Deed of Trust, Assignment of Rents and Leases, and Security Agreement duly recorded December 29, 2005 as Instrument No. 2005185789(the "Deed of Trust") among the Land Records of the District of Columbia (the "Land Records"), and in accordance with Public Law 90-566 notice filed July 27, 2011 a default having occurred in the payment of the indebtedness secured thereby and the covenants contained therein, and at the request of the party secured thereby (the "Noteholder"), the undersigned Substitute Trustees, will sell, at public auction, within the office of ALEX COOPER AUCTIONEERS, INC., 5301 WISCONSIN AVENUE, N.W., SUITE 750, WASHINGTON, D.C. on Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 11:00 am the following described land and premises Lot numbered Fifty-eight (58) in the subdivision made by the heirs of John Davidson of Square numbered Three Hundred Sixty-seven (367), as per plat recorded in the Office of the Surveyor for t he District of Columbia in Liber N.K. at folio 103."

(source ) 

[Editor's note: - while the sale of 1318 9th Street did not go through because the owner's filed for bankruptcy, this situation further increases the already intense public light and scrutiny on this highly questionable business]

It has been very difficult to protect the little stables in Naylor Court even though they are collectively on the National Register of Historic Properties. In fact when this stable (1316 Naylor Court) was deemed to have been "unstable" it was in fact so stable that the developer began to also rip down the party wall of the building next door into what is now the MOOD Lounge. The author's friend Orlando lived and worked comfortably in this little stable for many years refinishing furniture. It was stable.

Mind numbing sounds continue to blare through this party wall!
(check out the exposed wall speakers!)

Enjoy the video above to capture the community sentiment of 3 years ago

What can you do to help? You can sign the petition!

Please seriously consider signing the petition to close the MOOD Lounge. Naylor Court stables need to be protected from this sanctioned destruction and disrespect. They are all listed as National Historic Properties and protected by restrictive covenants. The direct link to the petition is 

The case hearing against the MOOD Lounge comes before ABRA through the attorney general's office on Sept 21st 2011. 
Let's hope that the MOOD changes and disappears. The neighborhood has had enough headaches already! 

Friday, August 12, 2011

Is the MOOD right?

The MOOD Lounge is pissing on/off the neighborhood

The building that houses the MOOD Lounge at 1318 9th Street NW in Washington (formerly the EFN Lounge and Motley Bar and formerly the Be-Bar and formerly the Salvation Army) was built in 1926 for the owner (D.D. Condon) as a “heating store”. His name as can be seen on the original signage in the photo as the far right building. (permit # 5767 – from the Kraft Database photo courtesy of
An older structure on this site including a rear stable in the alley would have been torn down to make way for the heating store. Neighboring buildings (such as the adjacent historically protected buildings that were aggressively torn down a couple of years ago by a developer to create The Nine Condo at 1316 9th Street) date back to the Civil War years.

These days, the heat is being turned up in the old heating store! After many months of illegal behavior fueled by the MOOD Lounge owners and committed by its patrons, the community is no longer into the MOOD. You might even say, that with a pending legal case against them in the Attorney General’s office, investigations through Council Member Evans’ Office (see below), ABRA, the DC police force and sanctions by the neighborhood associations, the MOOD is becoming ugly.
Horses used to urinate in this alley, but they couldn’t help it and we forgave them.
People know better and it’s unforgivable. (Courtesy ODC)

There is now even a new sign in the Naylor Court alley posted by the MOOD Lounge requesting that people not urinate in the alley. And this was necessary … why? The presence of the management’s sign clearly signals the management’s implicit acknowledgment that public urination (and of course the inescapable accompanying public indecent exposure delinquency) is a serious problem for them. Signs like this are ironically appropriate for the exterior of a business that claims it’s not responsible for the behavior of its patrons and that any “disruption” in the community is not their fault. Yet through their signage they readily admit to trying to “police” this activity even as they swear repeatedly at public meetings that they are not responsible. The owners of The MOOD Lounge unhesitatingly accepted the previous owners’ voluntary agreement in which they vowed to in essence “be good and responsible neighbors”.  To date, they have dishonored this agreement. They have also dishonored the alley that has been recognized on the National Register of Historic Places - a designation that demands respect.


Maybe the MOOD Lounge owners are having their new companion signs custom made (since the need to exhort civilized behavior in public is pretty uncommon and these signs are in low demand). Maybe the signs just haven’t arrived yet to be posted. 
Actual decibel reading on June 27th 2011 at 2:00 a.m. outside the MOOD - courtesy ODC
More important signs that are allegedly absent on the inside of this business are permits that allow the MOOD Lounge to operate as a nightclub. If there is any question in anyone’s mind about what sort of business is being run in this former heating store just check out the video. If a picture paints a thousand words then a video is an art gallery. 
There is no food advertised on the web site menu (the author couldn’t find a beer menu either) but you can always buy a $5,000 bottle of booze should you somehow feel the urge!

(from the office of Ward 2 City Council Member Mr. Jack Evans)

“I will continue to stay on top of this, and do whatever we can, legally, to see that this business operates within the law, or is closed.
With that, I ask Fred Moosally: why has this license, which was issued for a bar, located in a neighborhood, been permitted to turn into a nightclub? They do not have the license to operate as a nightclub, which clearly they are—that is evident to anyone, and therefore, they should be closed immediately.
Jack” (Evans)

The Prince of Petworth recently ran a blog article titled: - Neighbors having serious problems with MOOD Lounge in Shaw    Prince of Petworth article

   (Photo from Prince of Petworth Article referenced above)
While the community leadership enthusiastically encourages responsible business development along 9th Street and throughout the Shaw, they are universally (publically and privately) condemning the behavior of MOOD Lounge whose past and current behavior makes its future existence questionable. Stay tuned. The MOOD may change.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Dog Washed Out

The little white bandy-legged building affectionately known in the neighborhood as simply “the dog wash” spent its last few years as an art warehouse. Previously, it had been an active, dog washing and grooming operation with an intricate series of claw-foot cast iron tubs for canine comfort. Before that, it had been an auto body shop run by Harry Terrell and Bernard James.  Before that, doubtless there were many other past lives, but it was never a stable. Architecturally it was always configured as a garage unlike the 1863 stable that was torn down beside it (rear 1316 9th Street – now The Nine condo) in July 2009. 
A fragile wall, beaten by years of various vicious vehicular encounters finally 
 sustained one blow too many and is quickly rebuilt before the building collapses. 

On April 18th 1988 Linda Wheeler (Washington Post Staff Writer) wrote: - “The archives renovation ended a long-term unofficial policy by the city of ignoring the mechanics in Naylor Court and nearby Blagden Alley. For more than half a century, these mostly one and two-man businesses had attracted a steady flow of old cars in need of repair. Mechanics Terrell and James had a certificate of occupancy and proper licenses. Most of the others did not.” “They got the mechanics in here good,” said Terrell as he stood outside his one-room body shop, called A. Georgetown garage at the rear of 1314 Ninth St. NW. “They closed most everybody down. We are about the only ones left.”  

“Naylor Court and Blagden Alley are the only courts in Shaw that still have many of their original buildings. Most of the other courts in the area such as Goat, Freeman and Madison – have been demolished and replaced with apartment complexes or stand empty.”
“Social reformers succeeded in getting Congress to ban residential living in alleys and courts in 1944 because they had become associated with crime and squalor. Although more than a thousand of the small alley dwellings and shops were demolished, a few of those that survived are now considered fashionable addresses in Foggy Bottom and Capitol Hill.” “Gone too are more than 40 abandoned cars and 20 tons of debris that clogged the alleyways.”
Last year the jocular “dog wash art connoisseur tenant” was forced to leave and seek cover elsewhere for his collection of art and artifacts because the property owners wanted to turn the former garage into a more lucrative business of some type. The old garage was about to begin a new life. Such is often the case with alley buildings whose structures are easily adaptable to new uses because of their utilitarian design. Many of the small structures in the DC alleys are in a state of flux today. But if you really think about it, when have they ever been stable over the last 50 years?
As an aside, it is incumbent on anyone who undertakes developing a property in this historically protected alley - Naylor Court - to be architecturally savvy enough to take a moment to think about the importance of integrating new development within the sensibility of the original collection of buildings. If not, the result is a collection of thematically disassociated buildings that reflect owner self interest rather than reflecting a sense of caring for a largely intact historic inner block of alleys. This alley (and its sister alley Blagden) has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1990.  Despite the restrictive covenant governing the management of Naylor Court, unstable-like pop-up condo-box towers are beginning to soar with HPO and HPRB approval in what was a previously homogenous historic stable alley.
1863 Stable torn down in 2009 despite restrictive historic preservation covenant 
(rear 1316 9th Street - now The NINE - former home of Orlando Parks)

It turned out that the new business in 1314 rear was going to be a sandwich shop (SUNdeVICH) run by Ali Bagheri with an international theme. Eleven sandwiches made that are “named after a different international city (with) ingredients and flavors of that region.”
According to WTOP DC News Bagheri had been in computer business for 10 years but left to follow his passions in the world of cuisine. There is no “hair-of-the-dog” hangover cure drink, there are no “hot dogs” or “German shepherd’s pies” on the menu. The dog wash theme has washed out and become something entirely different. A partner business, Daniel O’Brien of Seasonal Pantry in the 1887 Victorian building on 9th Street, creates a complementing “sit down” alternative at the front of the building to the “walk away” business at the back in the alley.
It's amazing, that this alley has sprouted two new gastronomic enterprises in old buildings. For most of its life, buying food for human consumption was unthinkable in this alley. Generally, food was for horses. These businesses are superb additions to the neighborhood. Each has worked very hard to integrate into the spirit of the neighborhood and to be respectful of its history. Not all new businesses in Naylor Court have been in the same MOOD but then, that’s quite another story for another, less happy dog day of summer.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

New York Avenue NW Stable for Sale

The Portland Stable 643- 645 NY Avenue 

   William Horstkamp built The Portland (643 New York Avenue, Square 0405, lot 0006) in 1887 (permit number 1818.5) for its new owner F.M. Draney. Constructed of pressed brick with a concrete foundation, it had a front of 58 feet, a depth of 105 feet and was 4 stories tall. (Source: Kraft database) The livery stable cost $8,000 ($175,000 today) to build and the open stall fee of $30 quoted in the ad below is equivalent to about $670 per month today.  The building was designed and built in so that it looked much more like turn of the century row house residences than a stable. You can also see this design in the neighboring stable at 629-625 NY Ave. – which is still standing. After being in business for 4 years and having established what appears to have been a solid reputation The Portland Stable came up for sale.

“Among the livery stables of this city the Portland Stable of F.M. Draney ranks with the best. It is conveniently located on New York Avenue, near 7th Street and can be reached by four lines of cars – the Seventh Street cable, Eckington, Ninth Street and Columbia cars. The front of this building would do credit to many dwelling –houses, being neatly built of red press brick laid in black mortar. The building is four stories in height. The first and second stories are partly used for horses and partly for carriages. The third story is for carriages, paint-shop and harness repair-room, all the painting and harness repairing being done on the premise. The fourth story is devoted to hay, grain and forage and also storage of vehicles etc. when not in use. A large carriage elevator establishes communication between the ground and top floors. An Otto gas engine supplies the motive power for running the elevator up and down. Hay is cut in the fourth story with this same power, the engine and cutting box being connected with long belts. The entire ground floor is laid in Portland cement; it has the appearance of stone being laid out in tiled squares of different sizes. It wears as hard and enduring as stone.
            The stable is exceptionally well lighted, ventilated and superbly drained; hardly any objectionable odor can be detected around the building. The best evidence of the healthfulness of this stable is that during the recent epidemic of pink eye in this city not one case infected this stable. Perhaps the most convincing testimony of the healthfulness of the stable as well as the abundance of good feed are the horses themselves, all of them bearing witness to this being fat, hardy and well groomed. Despite the fact of the double advance in feed, $30 is the price charged for each horse per month for open stalls and $22.50 for box stalls.
            Every class of vehicle is kept for hire – handsome landaus, luxurious broughams, stylish Kensingtons, buckboards, surreys, phaetons, horse and buggies and wagonettes for park driving or picnics – all to be had at fair and reasonable prices. To those who are looking for a first-class and reliable livery stable the Portland at 643 and 645 New York Avenue is the place.”
(Source: - Sunday Herald and Weekly National Intelligencer, February 22, 1891, page 31 and image 31)

   At a roughly 24,000 square feet, The Portland probably qualified as one of the largest livery stables (but not the largest) in the city at the turn of the century. The Portland Stable was an impressive, self-contained business, managing harnesses, carriages, feed and horses. It was multifaceted and fit the requisite balance of any successful business or portfolio. In flush times people bought carriages and horses and boarded them. In lean times, they rented them (like Zip cars). Who could have predicted “the panic of 1893” that lay two years ahead? No doubt their flexibility enabled them to survive this well.

Today the Warehouse Theater lives on the site of the Portland Stable (645-643 New York Avenue).

The largest stable in D.C. was probably the B.F. McCaully & Co’s stable (Tally Ho) at 1300 Naylor Court– now the D.C. City Archives. 
   Another large historic livery stable in the Logan-Shaw neighborhood was the Mount Vernon Stables 1898 – 1908 (also known as the W.H. Penland & Co. stable (1894-97) and Proctor Alley Livery Stables) at1211R-1219R 13th Street. When cars rapidly replaced horses, the stable was converted into a garage for the Terminal Taxicab Company DC. In its last life before being converted into condos, it functioned for years as a successful British Sports Cars garage.
The original stable was about 12,900 square feet in size and described as having “distinguishing features (that) illustrate state-of-the-art technology for a late-19th century stable facility; 3 stories, red brick, utilitarian design with segmental-arched windows including individual horse stall windows; metal-framed structure with sanitary concrete flooring …” 

This former state-of-the-art stable has now become a state-of–the-art Ellis Denning project called the Fennessey Lofts.

Thankfully, this building was protected from demolition by virtue of having been placed on the National Register of Historic Places years ago and was thus preserved for new generations to appreciate and enjoy in what is probably its final adaptive reuse life. But one never really knows with old buildings …

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Alleys as Arterioles

elissa was finishing her second year of medical school at Georgetown University and one late spring afternoon she found herself meandering through one of the few reclaimed alleys in the area. She had just finished a grueling cardiovascular system pathophysiology exam, was exhausted from nights of cramming and blissfully let her mind wander aimlessly. She felt safe. The golden beams of a dying afternoon sun danced over the alley bricks and bounced randomly off the walls of stables and other century-old alley buildings.

Still flushed with images of the circulatory system swimming in her brain, she couldn’t help but think about alleys as arterioles or little arteries and streets as larger arteries and highways as the aorta. The gutters became lymphatic channels. People and cars and bicycles became red blood cells and white blood cells and platelets. She remembered one of the questions that she knew that she had gotten correct on the exam. (It’s asked every year) Q. What are the three things that result in clots in a blood vessel? A. (a) Slow blood flow (b) Damage to the walls of the blood vessel and (c) An increased tendency to have blood elements stick together (clot). Now her alley-arteriole-analogy took on a more dynamic rheological perspective. What did alleys (like blood vessels) require to stay healthy? They needed a steady flow of people and dogs and cats walking through them, attracted because they were places that were different and interesting and beckoning. They needed to be kept free of damage such as graffiti, collapsing roadbeds and buildings that were being demolished by neglect. They needed to be free of trash and overflowing dumpsters that attracted more trash and the obstruction of abandoned mattresses, abandoned cars and worn out water heaters that made alleys impassible.

It suddenly all seemed blindingly simple and clear to Melissa. As an undergraduate she had toyed with the idea of studying urban planning and had taken a couple of courses before changing her mind.  She understood what professors and pundits meant when they discussed the growth and development of cities as an ecology that followed the rules of nature.  She wondered why everyone couldn’t see this.

With a light heart she picked up her step and continued on her way home, wrapping her mind around large buildings as bones, bridges as appendages and traffic lights and streetlights as parts of a giant flickering nervous system. She was now discovering a human physiologic equivalent in everything she saw all around her. For this afternoon at least, through the haze of her fatigue, Washington D.C. and its alleys had become alive!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Two worlds collide in the alleys of Washington DC

eb was 11 when he began working seriously in his father’s stable. He was a large boy for his age and because his mother had been “poorly” for the last few years and they needed more money to hold the family together, his dad had forcefully encouraged him to leave school to work with him. It was 1912. The stable and livery business had been slowing down ever since the “horseless carriage” had appeared on the streets of Washington about 10 years ago. Horses were reliable but required great care. These new machines were unreliable and also required great care. Jeb’s dad could not see any possible future for this recent “fad” of unreliable machines which were terrifying horses and pedestrians alike. Some were even electric (38% of the car market in 1900) like President Taft’s new car – a Baker electric. Jeb disagreed. 

Jeb was a smart kid and knew he had to figure out how to make a living for more than just a few years while his mother was ill. He believed in this new “fad”.

At the end of each day after the last horse had been stabled for the night, Jeb would ask his father for permission to visit the stable in the middle of the alley where they were beginning to work on horseless carriages. His father did not exactly approve of this but knowing that his willful son would go anyway and knowing the passion and curiosity that were growing within Jeb, he reluctantly gave his blessing.

The former stable Jeb visited as a child now called itself a garage. Gone were the smells of manure, replaced by the smells of gasoline, oil and grease. The second story hayloft no longer held hay. Instead there were rows of shelves of new replacement automobile parts – leaf springs, rubber tires, spoke wheels, axles, drive shafts and a number of  “odds” bin for smaller parts. The air was vibrant and Jeb was immediately captivated. How could you not be excited by this new world? It was so very different from his previous experience in his dad’s stable. The endless conversations were about what was coming next and whether this “new age” would last. In a way, nobody cared, for there was so much work at hand keeping these machines running. Most automobiles at the time actually required a chauffeur who was also a mechanic because driving and keeping them running was well beyond the capacity of the average owner. By contrast horses and carriages were so much simpler.

Model T Ford central leaf spring
Yet, there were enough similarities between the old and the new stable worlds that Jeb fit well in both. Fro example, the leaf springs of these new vehicles were almost identical to the leaf springs from carriages and replacing or repairing them was the same for each. The wheels and front axles were very similar. Everyone was learning “on the job” and sharing new information as each previously unrecognized problem was approached.

While Jeb’s dad remained skeptical about this new era, he was proud of his son who was growing in so many ways. Eventually Jeb began to work full time at the new garage and his younger brother took his place in his dad’s stable.  There was always a spring in Jeb’s step over the years when he walked a couple of miles to work at 14th and L Street each day. The alley was alive with clatter of hooves and the backfires of ill tuned cars. It was an uneasy mix of colliding transportation and service worlds. 

(Notice the hayloft doors above the Ford sign and the bollard at the original carriage entrance. 
The open windows are venting fumes. reference - 

By 1926, the automobile was clearly winning the transportation war. Essentially no new stables had been built in DC after 1910 and gasoline stations began appearing on corners throughout the city. Jeb was now 25 years old. He had missed action in WW-I because of his age but was grateful to have a job when so many did not. While his faith in the new “fad” had paid off handsomely he was saddened that his parents had not lived to see his success. He was now the manager of a highly profitable service garage that sold and serviced Ford Lincolns, Fordson tractors and Ford trucks. His neighboring garage serviced Nash, Overland and Willys-Knight cars. There were nearly a 100 different automobile manufacturers now. Who knew where it would ultimately end?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Jane Jacobs and Alleys

The Death and Life of Great American Cities,  Jane Jacobs, Vintage Books Edition 1992
© 1961 by Jane Jacobs

A question arose several months ago at a community function during a discussion about Jane Jacob’s philosophy of urban development in the context of alleys. After it was generally agreed that Jacob’s philosophy was laid over a template of ecology, the question posed was, “how do market forces create change in the context of architectural historic preservation?” After a little reflection, my own answer was that the best change was never “complete and immediate” but incremental. Just don’t tear down what currently exists and wait for time to catch up with opportunity. Jacobs addresses this question elegantly in two rather complex chapters in her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities -  Gradual money and cataclysmic money and Unslumming and slumming. Times and driving economic forces have changed since these chapters were written in the late 50’s but the principles remain rock solid. (see Reconsidering Jane Jacobs)

It takes so much more imagination to reconfigure and adaptively reuse old buildings than to tear them down and start with nothing. Scorched earth may create a nice blank slate for architects and urban planners to provide an easy short-term solution but it’s one that is sure to come back to haunt everyone in the long-term. Sometimes urban planning approaches look like burning down an old established forest with thousands of different flora and fauna inhabitants and then boastfully converting it into an instant Christmas tree farm. Fast but badly flawed. New but nasty.

Jane Jacobs didn’t write very much about alleys and the many roles they play in cities. Yet her basic philosophy about how best to “unslum” large cities could as easily apply to alleys as it did to the NY slums about which she wrote extensively. Have a look at the following two excerpts from her book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”.

“In New York’s East Harlem there is a housing project with a conspicuous rectangular lawn which became an object of hatred to the project tenants. A social worker frequently at the project was astonished by how often the subject of the lawn came up, usually gratuitously as far as she could see, and how much the tenants despised it and urged that it be done away with. When she asked why, the answer as, “What good is it?” or “Who wants it?” Finally one day a tenant more articulate than the others made this pronouncement: “Nobody cared what we wanted when they built this place. They threw our houses down and pushed us here and pushed our friends somewhere else. We don’t have a place around here to get a cup of coffee or a newspaper even, or borrow fifty cents. Nobody cared what we need. But the big men come and look at that grass and say, ‘Isn’t it wonderful! Now the poor have everything!’”   (from the Introduction)

“The apathy is abetted, also, by the comfortable thought that the problem of slums is being overcome by wiping out old slum buildings. Nothing could be less true.
            It is so easy to blame the decay of cities on traffic … or immigrants … or the whimsies of the middle class. The decay of cities goes much deeper and is more complicated. It goes right down to what we think we want and to our ignorance of how cities work. The forms in which money is used must be converted to instruments of regeneration – from instruments buying violent cataclysms to instruments buying continual, gradual, complex and gentler change.”
(from Chapter 17 Gradual money and cataclysmic Money)

City Hall in Washington DC, be starting to change their concept of alleys from places for trash and services to paths for people. In a recently revealed budget proposal, Tommy Wells announced that among other things, he would like to - “Fund green alleys. Many alleys have crumbling surfaces and greatly need repair, but there hasn't been much money for this in recent years. $1 million would fund a new Green Alleys program, picking some alleys to rebuild with permeable paving, energy-efficient LED lighting, trees, and more.” This is a welcome proposal indeed! Bricking the DC alleys was a great program of “unslumming” while it lasted. The time is now ripe for adding more “human touches” to draw more foot traffic, vibrant human interactions and the kind of  “gentler change” to which Jane Jacobs was referring so many years ago. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Un-stable Alleys – 2 B or not 2 B

Graffiti on 9th Street at O Street DC NW

Social messaging graffiti is creeping back onto the streets and into the alleys in Shaw, reminiscent of the days of the 9th Street anarchists a few years ago.  That few seem concerned is probably because few understand the implications of graffiti as an assault on private and public property. It is also an assault on minds. BYPO (a social messaging graffiti artist with a self confessed bipolar psychiatric disorder) has been expressing himself liberally in the neighborhood through his cryptic messages that when traced, lead to his blog

“In the beginning was the word
The sentence came next but that took kinda long
the process a mess
Can’t wait around for messiahs reborn
Arm yourself baby its MINDFUCK time

from evolution to revolution
NUCOMINTERN baby: a karmic solution”

Insights into his inner passions become clearer after reading this interview posted on “brightest young things” web site:

Public graffiti social messaging, to make a statement of conscience is one thing. To use this form of expression to instigate negativism, social unrest and hatred of any group is quite another. It is in fact illegal.

Perhaps there are some young lurking “peaceniks” in the D.C. alleys waiting to counterbalance the cyclothymic B+ or B - with their own social messaging expression of caring, inclusion and positivity that is devoid of unbalanced urban cultural code words of anger. ("Housing is a right. Gentrification is a virus.")

On the other hand, defacing others’ property is unacceptable, regardless of where you stand on any polarizing issue! This form of civil disobedience often actually accomplishes precisely the opposite of the intended goal of its creators. Today, there are many much more effective vehicles through which to exercise our freedom of speech in ways that can help us all move forward rather than oscillating in ever diminishing B+ve or B-ve circles. How boring! We all face that negative and demeaning dialectic on the news every night. People, let’s get a little more creative and a little kinder. 
B+ve or B-ve Naylor Ct
Defend the District O & 9th
9th St. & O St. NW